Tuesday, October 18, 2011

S.F. Loses a BDSM Community Hub with the Closing of Wicked Grounds Coffeehouse

Posted By on Tue, Oct 18, 2011 at 1:00 PM

click to enlarge Rose White and Ryan Galiotto owned Wicked Grounds.
  • Rose White and Ryan Galiotto owned Wicked Grounds.

@WickedGrounds is closed today. We are very sorry for any inconvenience.

That tweet went out two Wednesdays ago. It was at once cryptic and unsurprising. On the one hand, it might just mean what it said: Wicked Grounds was closed for the day. On the other, it could mean something more, because the city's only kink-oriented coffeehouse had suffered financially since its opening. The fact that it was still open at all was because of an enormous effort by regular clientele to raise funds. (The owners had announced it would close at the end of April.) When the tweet went out, everyone froze for a minute, wondering whether the axe had finally dropped.

Once the baristas started posting on Twitter and Fetlife about finding new jobs, it seemed very clear: Wicked Grounds was closed for good -- and with it an important hub of San Francisco's BDSM community.

I can't pretend to have journalistic objectivity on this subject. For the past two years, Wicked Grounds has been central to my social life in the city. When it opened, I wrote it up for CarnalNation, the website where I worked at the time, and when it looked like it would close, I participated in the fundraisers to keep it open. A lot of my writing has been done sitting at one of its tables while people openly practiced bondage knots a few feet away. My main response to its closing is a profound sense of grief and loss.

click to enlarge Supporters were able to raise $50,000 to keep the cafe open, but it eventually wasn't enough.
  • Supporters were able to raise $50,000 to keep the cafe open, but it eventually wasn't enough.

Those feelings are even more acute because the story of Wicked Grounds says so much about the state of San Francisco's sexual subculture. Just getting the café's doors open in 2009 was a community effort. Before the first coffee was poured, people volunteered their help to get the space into shape. Co-owner Ryan Galiotto (who was joined by his wife Rose White) acknowledges that they probably wouldn't have been able to open without that assistance.

But as much as that says something about the fundamental decency of our local pervs, the closing of Wicked Grounds also shows a real problem: Kinksters are fighting tooth and nail to keep community spaces. It's not just one coffeehouse.

"Things have been really bad," Galiotto says. "When we opened, we had Stormy Leather, A Taste of Leather, as well as Mister S and Leather Etc."

The first two of those four retailers are gone.

"There were a handful of leather bars [in the SoMa area] and right now, I think Powerhouse is probably the only real leather bar," he says.

click to enlarge Rose White holds a "g-spot cucumber" in the "We Can Do It!" pose.
  • Rose White holds a "g-spot cucumber" in the "We Can Do It!" pose.

After Rose and Ryan announced that Wicked Grounds would close at the end of April, two more of San Francisco's queer institutions were also fighting for their lives: the Eagle Tavern and Lyon Martin Health Services. In May the Eagle lost the battle to keep its lease after being indispensable to the numerous sectors of the queer community community for 30 years and closed its doors. Lyon Martin has held on, if barely, thanks to fundraising by its patients, staff, and community members.

click to enlarge A recent bondage demonstration.
  • A recent bondage demonstration.

With each closing, it feels like San Francisco is becoming less and less of a place to be queer or kinky, unless you want to keep it in your apartment.

Wicked Grounds was unusual in that it was primarily a social space where everyone just happened to be kinky. People came in as a normal part of their everyday lives, not to get laid or to buy stuff for a special night out. On any given afternoon or evening, you might see Scrabble at one table and bondage at the next. The casual nature of the space broke down the careful segregation between "normal" life and sex.

click to enlarge This shot is from a "Beefcake Barista" event.
  • This shot is from a "Beefcake Barista" event.

Perhaps even more important, because it was a coffeehouse, it was a great landing place for the younger members of the scene, the ones just learning how to shape their mouths around the word "queer" and finding out what that means. They now have one fewer door that will open to them. It's also a place where other groups held fundraisers, such as one to help victims of the earthquake in Japan.

The dedication of Wicked Grounds' customers and employees to preserve that kind of space, where they could come and chat and be normal without being in a closet, was demonstrated in April, when they raised more than $50,000 to keep the place open. They did it through individual pledges, raffles, and fundraising events.

It still wasn't enough.

While walking to the café on Oct. 5, Galiotto got a call from his wife that they had to close the café immediately because of bankruptcy rules.

"We did not qualify for conditions under Chapter 7 to remain open in receivership," Galiotto says. "So as soon as Chapter 7 went into effect, we were no longer able to be in business."

click to enlarge The tweet that accompanied this photos says "She might have won the contest, but now she is forced to live in a cage for the rest of her life."
  • The tweet that accompanied this photos says "She might have won the contest, but now she is forced to live in a cage for the rest of her life."

As a result, a lot of groups are scurrying for new venues for their get-togethers, sometimes called "munches" because they're informal discussions over food and beverages. At the time Wicked Grounds closed, regularly scheduled meetups included a pony play munch, a games night, a twice-monthly bondage munch called "Rope Bite," and events sponsored by the Society of Janus and the Exiles. Despite our twisted reputation, venues for those kinds of events are surprisingly difficult to find in San Francisco. Even here, most business owners prefer it if the freaks find somewhere else to talk shop.

A week and a half after closing, Galiotto's voice was heavy with exhaustion and grief, but not with regret.

"I guess what I have to do is just lick my wounds for a bit," he says. "I put so much of myself into this place, it's really hard not having it there. I'm trying to remind myself that we did an amazing thing, that it may not have lasted forever, but we did it. For two years, we provided this for everyone."

Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF and like us on Facebook.

  • Pin It

Tags: , , , , ,

About The Author

Chris Hall

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed

Like us on Facebook

Slideshows

  • Nevada City and the South Yuba River: A gold country getaway

    Nestled in the green pine-covered hills of the Northern Sierra Nevada is the Gold Rush town of Nevada City. Beautiful Victorian houses line the streets, keeping the old-time charm alive, and a vibrant downtown is home to world-class art, theater and music. The nearby South Yuba River State Park is known for its emerald swimming holes during the summer and radiant leaf colors during autumn. These days the gold panning is more for tourists than prospectors, but the gold miner spirit is still in the air.

    South Yuba River State Park and Swimming Holes:
    The park runs along and below 20 miles of the South Yuba River, offering hiking, mountain biking, gold panning and swimming. The Highway 49 bridge swimming hole is seven-miles northwest of Nevada City where Highway 49 crosses the South Yuba River. Parking is readily available and it is a short, steep hike to a stunning swimming hole beneath a footbridge. For the more intrepid, trails extend along the river with access to secluded swim spots. The Bridgeport swimming hole has calm waters and a sandy beach -- good for families and cookouts -- and is located 14 miles northwest of Nevada City. Be sure to write down directions before heading out, GPS may not be available. Most swimming holes on the South Yuba River are best from July to September, while winter and spring can bring dangerous rapids. Always know the current before jumping in!

    Downtown Nevada City
    The welcoming, walkable downtown of Nevada City is laid back, yet full of life. Start your day at the cozy South Pine Cafe (110 S Pine St.) with a lobster benedict or a spicy Jamaican tofu scramble. Then stroll the streets and stop into the shop Kitkitdizzi (423 Broad St.) for handcrafted goods unique to the region, vintage wears and local art “all with California gold rush swagger,” as stated by owners Carrie Hawthorne and Kira Westly. Surrounded by Gold Rush history, modern gold jewelry is made from locally found nuggets and is found at Utopian Stone Custom Jewelers (301 Broad St.). For a coffee shop with Victorian charm try The Curly Wolf (217 Broad St.), an espresso house and music venue with German pastries and light fare. A perfect way to cool down during the hot summer months can be found at Treats (110 York St.) , an artisan ice cream shop with flavors like pear ginger sorbet or vegan chai coconut. Nightlife is aplenty with music halls, alehouses or dive bars like the Mine Shaft Saloon (222 Broad St.).

    The Willo Steakhouse (16898 State Hwy 49, Nevada City)
    Along Highway 49, just west of Nevada City, is The Willo, a classic roadhouse and bar where you’re welcomed by the smell of steak and a dining room full of locals. In 1947 a Quonset hut (a semi-cylindrical building) was purchased from the US Army and transported to its current location, and opened as a bar, which became popular with lumberjacks and miners. The bar was passed down through the decades and a covered structure was added to enlarge the bar and create a dining area. The original Quonset beams are still visible in the bar and current owners Mike Byrne and Nancy Wilson keep the roadhouse tradition going with carefully aged New York steaks and house made ingredients. Pair your steak or fish with a local wine, such as the Rough and Ready Red, or bring your own for a small corkage fee. Check the website for specials, such as rib-eye on Fridays.

    Outside Inn (575 E Broad St.)
    A 16-room motel a short walk from downtown, each room features a unique décor, such as the Paddlers’ Suite or the Wildflower Room. A friendly staff and an office full of information about local trails, swimming and biking gets you started on your outdoor exploration. Amenities include an outdoor shower, a summer swimming pool and picnic tables and barbeques. Don’t miss the free vegetable cart just outside the motel in the mornings.

    Written and photographed by Beth LaBerge for the SF Weekly.

  • Arcade Fire at Shoreline
    Arcade Fire opened their US tour at Shoreline Amphitheater to a full house who was there in support of their album "Reflector," which was released last fall. Dan Deacon opened the show to a happily surprised early audience and got the crowd actively dancing and warmed up. DEVO was originally on the bill to support Arcade Fire but a kayak accident last week had sidelined lead singer Mark Mothersbaugh and the duration of the west coast leg of the tour. Win Butler did a homage to DEVO by performing Uncontrollable Urge.